Two weeks ago I attended a dropout summit here in the Oklahoma City metro area. Today, I completed an online survey of the event for one of the principal sponsors of these dropout summits around the country, America’s Promise Alliance.

Dropout Prevention: Attendee Survey

These were the “solutions” and approaches to the dropout crisis which the survey’s authors asked summit participants to rate:

  1. Make accurate graduation and dropout data readily available.
  2. Tie high school graduation requirements to the expectations of colleges and employers.
  3. Support greater parental engagement in their children’s education.
  4. Provide students with a safe learning environment.
  5. Raise the compulsory school age requirements under state law.
  6. Give schools information about scientifically proven strategies to improve education.
  7. Make increasing high school graduation and college/workforce readiness a national priority (ex. engage policymakers and national leaders in better understanding the problems and common solutions to the dropout problem).
  8. Develop individualized graduation plans for each student.
  9. Establish an “Early Warning System” that identifies youth who are struggling academically early.
  10. Expand college level learning opportunities in high school.
  11. Provide students with adult advocates who help identify academic and personal challenges early and get students the support they need.
  12. Other

Of these provided choices, I think two are most important and valid:
– Support greater parental engagement in their children’s education
– Develop individualized graduation plans for each student

Parent involvement and engagement in education is absolutely pivotal. One of the reasons I think we should embrace web 2.0 technologies in schools is that their regular use by students can create digital portfolios which provide authentic windows into the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of students which cannot be obtained as readily or completely via written examinations. While it is certainly true we have a digital divide, and many parents do not have home access to computers with high speed Internet connections to view student work, there are still many ways to address these challenges and share digital student work with parents in other ways. Open house events, iPods and other mp3 audio/video recorders sent home, and DVDs sent home, are all ways to address these challenges. The emerging mobile web is going to help as well, as content can be made directly accessible by parents on their cell phones.

Individualized learning plans, and not just “graduation plans,” are also essential. A component to this which is not articulated well by many, if any groups in our state, however, is what this means for mandated academic standards and testing requirements. We have vainly pursued academic excellence and quality via the standards and accountability movements in the United States, and we need to acknowledge the true, bitter fruit of this path. We must REDUCE the mandates officially placed on students and teachers by our state and federal governments. We must END our current culture of high-stakes accountability, which represents a complete slap-in-the-face to every educator in the classroom today. High stakes testing, in the form we deploy today in many states, tells the classroom teacher, “You’re professional abilities to assess student learning and diagnose learning needs are worthless. We have put this battery of tests in place because, fundamentally, we [the public] do not TRUST you. We do not view you as capable or professional, and because of this mistrust we are mandating these high-stakes assessments to do the “academic measurement” task for which we believe you are incapable.” I am frustrated and disgusted with this climate of mistrust of teachers and schools. I am frustrated at our continued insistence as nation to focus on STANDARDIZED approaches to learning and assessment, rather than the INDIVIDUALIZED and customized approaches which our students need and deserve. For more on this, see my response to President Bush’s last state of the union address in February 2008, “A contrary view of education and NCLB.”

Interestingly, while respondents could select “Other” as a solution on this survey, there was not an open-text option to specify what that “other solution” might be. There are at least two approaches I would add to this list:
– Expand alternative graduation and credit options for students
– Focus the learning culture of schools on student engagement, project-based learning, and authentic assessment.

The latter choice is both more difficult to articulate and understand, as well as implement, than something easier sounding like “get a graduation coach for every student.” Educators who care for and support the development of their students are naturally “graduation coaches.” The focus in our classrooms should not be exclusively on “graduation” in our current educational system, as we know it today. Our focus should be on LEARNING. Most people seem bent on continuing to enforce, promote, and perpetuate our current educational system, rather than pursuing alternatives to our current system which CLEARLY does not serve the needs of all the diverse learners in our society.

Fundamental to the learning revolution, then, is this focus on differentiation, individualization, and personalization. Standardization is the enemy of the learning revolution. Every child needs and deserves their own IEP, and schools should be oriented to provide this level of customized educational experiences rather than factory-model, standardized experiences.

Dugg Dugg Art Gallery, NoDa
Creative Commons License photo credit: James Willamor

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  • Wesley,
    This is pretty much in line with your addition, but I’ll put in my 2 cents here…

    Work with students (as opposed to doing to students – see Alfie Kohn’s writings) to help them discover their interests and passions, help them build cross-curricular projects around their interests and passions, and help them create novel and personally relevant ways to demonstrate their knowledge.

    Wow… there’s a lot of “help them”s in my statement – and not a lot of “test them”s.

    Regards,
    Kent

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  • Wes,

    Your list stuck with me yesterday and was more than a bit irritating to me. I couldn’t put my finger on that itch until early this morning. It’s that you appear to have been asked to compare the solutions, rather than consider them in conjunction — as a continuum of solutions. I blogged about it here.

    — dave —

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